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AUGUST 16, 1999: 

The Apples in Stereo Her Wallpaper Reverie, (spinART)

The Apples in Stereo inhabit a musical world where 1965 and 1966 are on perpetual loop -- those magical couple of years when the Beach Boys became "smart" and the Beatles were in between mop-tops and ties and the loonier side effects of psychedelia. More so than any of their Elephant 6 Collective cohorts, the Apples explore the gentle, earthbound aspects of psychedelia, their music more skewed toward Rubber Soul and Revolver-esque slices of daily experience than benefits for Mr. Kite or stories about Bungalow Bill.

Their latest, Her Wallpaper Reverie, is a bit more ambitious -- a rock opera with the compact arc of a sitcom. (Its running time is a hair over 27 minutes.) The narrative information is sparse, much of it provided by brief instrumental passages carrying lengthy titles, for example, the 11-second "Her Room is a Rainy Garden." Random geniuses like Prince Paul aside, I learned long ago to ignore the story line on most of these things and attend to the sonics, but what little story that exists on Her Wallpaper Reverie is endearing enough to warrant attention. And it helps that it's such a breezy listen, with Pet Sounds-quality harmonies and melodies and a guitar-bass-drums foundation augmented by a Technicolor panoply of hand-claps, sound effects, and myriad keyboards.

As far as I can tell, Reverie begins as a concept album about moping around your bedroom with the radio on, which is probably the great under-recognized rock-and-roll subject. The first lyric has our heroine Ruby complaining "I would do anything to be anywhere else" before deciding to take "a trip on a stereo song/drifting along with the radio on." On "Ruby" a friend/lover shows up to commiserate, with lead Apple Robert Schneider singing his plaint, "Troubles, they carry you around, from the crib into the ground, they will never sit you down" before down-shifting into the ineffable with a lazily gorgeous "hmm la-la-la." But Ruby's too wrapped up in her wallpaper reveries to respond.

From here, Her Wallpaper Reverie turns its attention to the joys and complications of companionship, which, of course, is one of life's great subjects. The friend realizes the futility of communication ("Everything I say falls away like the fade on the radio song") and snuggles up to Ruby, the record climaxing with the inspirational "Benefits Of Lying (With Your Friend)." The friend essays the fruits of wordless companionship before confronting the discomfiting truth -- sung for a full minute -- that "I'll never know you like you know yourself/You'll never know me like I know myself." And as the last instrumental passage notes, "Together They Dream Into The Evening."

It's a fine closer for this intimate gem of a mini-album, which is no Tommy, to be sure, but takes as much care with its two-person, one-act rock-and-roll play as any Who-dunit. -- Chris Herrington

Negativland/Chumbawamba The ABCs Of Anarchism, (Seeland)

No, your eyes are not deceiving you, and this review is not a hoax. Avowed anarchists Chumbawamba have teamed up with our favorite "Fair Use" provocateurs Negativland for a 22-minute audio excursion into free speech titled The ABCs Of Anarchism. The interior packaging alone will send Jerry Falwell and his mindless legions into fits of apoplexy, since it features cartoon images of some very Teletubby-ish characters brandishing the symbols for the almighty dollar, copyright, anarchy, and the British pound sterling.

The front cover is a little more benign, with photos of cute little bunnies amid a bucolic landscape befouled by a sewer pipe. But in keeping with Negativland's propensity for subversion, the back cover features two of those bunnies making "the beast with two backs" in the shadow of a filthy smokestack stream, while the cartoon sun shines brightly above (sporting that freaky oversized toothy grin that will forever be associated with Chumbawamba).

So what about the contents of the CD itself? Well, this collaboration isn't exactly tune-filled, being composed instead of three audio collage pieces that drive their message home a little more heavy-handedly than usual. Clocking in at nearly 13 minutes, the lead cut, "The ABCs of Anarchism," is ponderous in spots, but still effective as a piece of "think for yourself" counter-propaganda.

The other two tracks yield more rewards, with "Smelly Water" dealing directly with what its title implies, and the closer, "© Is For Stupid (ABCs re-mix by DJ Dr. J Land)," shining as the jewel in this collection. Cookie Monster is responsible for the repeating mantra here, and the listener is left with a smile instead of an overt call to action.

Chumbawamba fans will likely be disappointed, Negativland fans will get the joke, and copyright police everywhere will continue to be pissed off. Who could ask for anything more? -- David D. Duncan

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